Riley, though, was no less distressed at his own club. "I'm not disappointed and irritated," he said. "I'm well beyond that. I'm disgusted." Thompson described L.A.'s soft play in Game 4 in political terms ("We were George Bush clones in Laker uniforms"), while Magic chose a battlefield analogy. "We were like Cluster, or whatever his name was," he said.
So, Los Angeles came out smokin' in Game 5, taking it to Little Big Mahorn and the rest of the Pistons with a fast-paced style that produced a 15-2 advantage in the early going. But maybe, just maybe, L.A. has grown too old for that kind of all-out assault. By early in the second quarter, Detroit was in front 33-32. The Pistons won 104-94 to take a 3-2 lead in the series.
The Lakers could not even pick their poison in the game. It came fast, as when Vinnie (Microwave) Johnson came flying off the bench in the first quarter and scored 12 points in a 5:50 span that carried into the second period. Or when Rodman and John Salley started taking defensive control, the former with his energetic and almost defiant containment of Magic (he and Dumars held Johnson to 4-of-15 shooting from the floor), the latter with his three blocked shots and 10 rebounds. The two supersubs frequently crossed arms, a routine they started after Boston's Kevin McHale called them "the X factor" during this year's Eastern Conference finals. To the Lakers, they were strictly X-rated.
At other times, the poison came slowly, as when Dantley went into his studied, almost obsessive retinue of offensive moves. Wipe...off...sweat...spin...ball...Jab-step...fake.... He not only drove the Lakers crazy in Game 5, but he also faked the drive, took a rocker step back and released his deliberate, anachronistic one-hander, taking all the care of a man placing a piece of valuable china on a shelf. Dantley finished with 25 points and ignited Detroit with some uncharacteristic displays of fist-waving emotion. "He was acting like Rodman or somebody out there," said Dumars, Dantley's closest friend on the Pistons.
The Lakers, home again but with their backs to the wall, looked drained before Game 6. The physical toll of two seven-game series before this one, plus the mental burden of their coach's promise to repeat, showed on their faces. And on Riley's, too. He has rejoiced when his team has responded, agonized when it has not. Angst clings to him like one of his European-cut suits. Surely he is one of the few coaches who can wax anthropological and sound sincere. "I think we'll play well [in the sixth game]," said Riley. "Man's greatest fear is the fear of extinction."
And so they did. Worthy had spent much of Saturday watching a tape of Dantley's offensive moves, and on Sunday he held AD to 14 points while scoring 28. Green, who had 10 points and 10 rebounds, was solid, Scott (16 points) reliable, Magic (19 assists) unselfish, and Abdul-Jabbar (two big free throws) unflappable. "Without a doubt, our experience and maturity won this game," said Riley.
They would need those qualities again on Tuesday night to prevent Detroit from winning its first NBA title. "Some people are surprised that the series is going seven," said Magic, "but not me. It's no longer just L.A. and Boston in this league. Detroit is here. And here to stay."